While March 2020 will always remain indelibly etched in Steve Borza’s memory for the obvious reasons, the beginning of the pandemic also marked a coming-of-age for the Ottawa entrepreneur’s company.
Borza is the founder and chief executive of ID authentication firm Bluink. The local enterprise has spent a decade perfecting an app that stores digital versions of government-issued documents such as driver’s licences, provincial health cards and passports on a user’s smartphone.
Bluink initially won a contract from the Ontario Liberal government under then-premier Kathleen Wynne to pilot its technology more than three years ago. But the deal was put on hold when Doug Ford’s Conservatives came to power in 2018, and it took a while for the Ottawa venture to regain its momentum.
Bluink finally got its servers up and running on March 10, 2020. Its app, called eID-Me, was ready to serve users in Ontario and other Canadian provinces.
“That was a big day for us,” says Borza, a Carleton engineering grad who launched Bluink in 2010 after a career that included a stint working on artificial-heart components at the Ottawa Heart Institute and a four-year run as an R&D tax specialist at Deloitte.
Of course, not everything went exactly according to plan. The platform – which uses AI facial-recognition software to verify a user’s identity – needed to be tweaked so it worked on a range of operating systems and recognized different versions of health cards and other documents.
“We found out what was broken pretty quickly and went about fixing it,” Borza says.
A year later, the 16-person company is poised to take a giant step forward as it taps into the health-care and border security sectors.
Bluink recently inked a partnership with an Ontario health team that will allow patients to register and access their medical records by scanning their phones at special kiosks. Meanwhile, the Canada Border Services Agency will soon let eID-Me’s users scan their e-passports at airports, which Borza calls “a big win” for the firm.
‘A massive partnership opportunity’
The firm’s breakout year is about to get even better. Bluink is on the verge of signing a deal with a “large cross-Canada company” that plans to use its tech to verify the identities of potential clients.
Borza can’t name the firm just yet, but he says it’s the kind of contract that can put a fledgling business on the proverbial hockey-stick-like growth trajectory.
“It’s a company everyone knows and uses,” he teases. “Once we announce, people will understand. It’s a massive partnership opportunity.”
Borza sees huge upside in the ID verification market. It’s one thing to eliminate the need for physical documents, but Bluink’s app also makes it much easier for financial institutions, real estate firms and other entities to confirm that potential clients are who they say they are.
For example, rather than simply taking a buyer’s word for it, online cannabis retailers now use Bluink’s platform to verify that consumers are of legal age before approving a sale. Users must enter a special code sent to their smartphone before the buy can proceed.
In addition, Diamond and Diamond, a Toronto-based law firm, has just begun using eID-Me for real estate transactions.
Borza expects many more customers to join them soon. That could translate into a nice income stream for Bluink, which charges its customers a fee for every transaction that requires the app.
“It’s a big market,” says Borza, noting that the federal government alone conducts 400,000 background checks on contractors and employees every year – a process he says could be done much more efficiently with his app.
“We are turning the corner into commercial success.”
“It’s not a few thousand transactions, it’s hundreds of thousands. As a company, we are turning the corner into commercial success.”
Bluink initially stores all data from user documents at a secure site in Kanata. However, Borza explains that all private information is deleted from its servers once a digital wallet has been set up.
Aside from $125,000 in angel funding and backing from Borza’s family and friends, Bluink has been self-financed. Borza predicts the company will be cash-flow-positive before the end of the year as it builds its recurring revenue stream, adding that Bluink is attracting interest from potential investors on both sides of the border.
“I think once our big announcement of our partnership with a very large organization comes out, there will be a lot more people kicking our tires to invest,” he says.